IST: Indian Standard Time or Indian Stretchable Time?

spicysaturday[1]A European manufacturer, on his first visit to India, and I were at a large automotive factory on the outskirts of the city discussing the customer’s requirement of equipment for their new project. At the end of the day, we had not completed our discussion. I asked the customer what time we should meet him the next morning. His reply was, “9.00 – 9.30.” As soon as we started driving back towards the city, the European visitor asked me, “What did the gentleman mean by 9.00 – 9.30?” I explained, “He normally starts work at 8.00. I guess he meant that he’ll complete his routine work within 60 to 90 minutes. So, he will definitely be ready to start the meeting at 9.30, maybe earlier, but not before 9.00.” The European gentleman just could not understand why the customer had to give us a 30-minute range. We decided to reach the customer’s factory at 9.00. This might have meant that we would have to wait for 30 minutes or less, but we both did not want to make the customer wait for us if he was ready to start the meeting at 9.00.

The next day, we reached the customer’s office at 9.00 am and cooled our heels for about 75 minutes until the customer walked in at 10.15 am. He neither expressed any regret nor did he offer any explanation for keeping us waiting.

That afternoon, as we were driving back to the city, the European gentleman stated that he was disgusted that, not only had the customer reached so late for our meeting, he had neither expressed any regret nor offered any explanation for his late arrival. He said this showed that this customer was habitually unpunctual. He expressed surprise at the fact that I was not at all upset. I replied that, while the customer’s unpunctuality today had upset me, I knew I had to put up with his unpunctuality if I wanted to do business with him.

In reply to his next question, I replied that most of our customers and most other people in India are quite punctual. This was not true, but I felt I should not speak ill of my compatriots to a foreigner. The truth is unpunctuality is rampant in India. Most of us consider it our birthright to be late! The quip that IST stands for Indian Stretchable Time, not Indian Standard Time, is today a cruel joke on us Indians. It is strange that, while we generally do not miss flights or trains or bill payment deadlines, many of us are consistently unpunctual in our daily lives. I have described an incident about my customer’s unpunctuality, but unpunctuality is very common among all kinds of people irrespective of age, gender, religion, caste, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, etc. I have come across salespersons reaching late for meetings (when I’m the customer), job applicants reporting late for interviews, students reporting late for examinations … the list is endless!

I am a time-conscious person. I try to be punctual always, and succeed most of the time. If I get delayed for reasons beyond my control, I inform the other person(s) as soon as I know I am likely to be delayed. I expect the same from others. I get terribly upset every time I encounter persons who are not time-conscious. Unless I have compelling reasons not to do so, I make my displeasure clear to such persons.

Nobody is intentionally unpunctual. Then, why is unpunctuality so widespread in India? Firstly, it’s because we do not value time: our own or that of others. Secondly, we take so much pride in being tolerant that punctual persons tolerate the unpunctuality of others. After a while, most punctual persons also become unpunctual. It’s only the unreasonable persons (like me) who insist on being punctual and on others being punctual.

More on punctuality in my posts ‘Why and How to be punctual on August 06, 2013 and Making others punctual on August 08, 2013

7 thoughts on “IST: Indian Standard Time or Indian Stretchable Time?

  1. Punctuality is something that I also take seriously, which has led to me being at places, events and functions at least 5 mins before even the host makes it to the event 🙂 That being said I don’t mind going earlier than I am supposed to.

    Have to completely agree with you that most Indians simply don’t seem to care for others’ time at all and they turn up at meetings, appointments, whenever they please to choose without even bothering to apologize.

    Nice post…resonated well with my feelings on this subject.

  2. “Indian Stretchable Time” be damned. We need to take a lead in putting an end, for our own good, to such obnoxious and uncivilized practices.
    For one, as a matter of principle, I don’t keep people waiting and I don’t countenance anyone doing it to me.
    In civil society organizations that I am a member of, if the meeting doesn’t start off at the scheduled time for whatever reason, be it non-arrival of the Chairman or the presence/absence of quorum,I insist that the meeting start by taking the Chair myself and calling the House to order and commencing business. So-much-so all members make it a point to come in time!
    QED nothing is impossible. I’m one of the Co-Founders of a Municipal Corporation owned public open space recreation ground that opens at dawn on the dot and closes at the appointed time, users have to walk compulsorily in anti-clock wise direction on soft gravel top walking-cum-jogging track, no eats, drinks, chewing or smoking, no plucking of flowers. Lit up initially by CFL and now by LED lamps; in-house organic composting, drip-irrigation from on-site bore well, no potable water; reserved areas for kids and elders;ramped entry for prams and physically challenged. This remains the only public place to be awarded the Citizens Award by the Mumbai Chapter of the Indian Heritage Society. It can be done!

  3. Pingback: Making others punctual | Proactive Indian

  4. Very well said..@proactive Indian
    I also believe in punctuality….if I have any meeting or appointment, I try to reach at least before half an hour, so that even if I get delayed due to some reasons , I can at least reach on time…

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